LeBron James wants teams to know that when he signs his new contract, it's going to be for the maximum salary next year, which shakes out to about $20.7 million. LeBron has never been the highest paid player on any team he's ever played on and he's looking to rectify that.
The question becomes, then, what does this mean for the teams lining up to sign James not named the Miami Heat? It means they're probably boned. According to LeBron liaison Brian Windhorst, only seven teams have the space to sign James to a max salary right now: the Heat, Mavericks, Lakers, Suns, Sixers, Jazz, and Magic. The Lakers and Suns will take a run at him, and he will listen, but that could be it.
More teams enter the mix if you consider a sign-and-trade, but that involves Miami helping another team get LeBron James. Other options include blowing up your roster:
At least three teams currently without the needed cap space that are known to want to chase James are the Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls. All three would need to execute significant shuffling and perhaps even offload star players to clear $20.7 million.
These details have led to a growing pessimism among teams that James is seriously considering leaving the Heat. ESPN reported Sunday that the Bulls and Rockets have scheduled in-person free-agent meetings this week with Carmelo Anthony as a top offseason target.
It sounds like what's happened here is that LeBron, Wade, and Bosh met last week to discuss their options and LeBron broke it down for the other two: I'm getting paid; you can hang around on the cheap and we can keep playing together or we can go our separate ways. Rather than all three subsidizing the Heat, just Bosh and Wade take the cuts, and LeBron gets his due. This would seem to end the Carmelo-joining-the-Big-Three rumors, unless there's going to be a different Big Three.
The other wrinkle is that James is not necessarily looking for a long-term contract; he wants flexibility. And $20.7 million next year.
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